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Medical Counterfeit

eHealth medical supply

How sure are you that the medication you’re purchasing at the local pharmacy is genuine?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the market for counterfeit drugs could be worth USD 2 billion, with Africa accounting for 42% of the market.

Counterfeit medication refers to medication that has different or incorrect chemical components to what the packaging states .At times some counterfeit medication contains little to no medical properties and in many cases this can be fatal. WHO has noted that almost a quarter of pharmaceuticals in developing nations have a circulation of medication to tackle HIV/AID, TB, and Malaria which is of poor or bad quality.

In the same instance various organisations and states have used the route of raids of counterfeit dens to prevent fake drugs making it on the streets. However this is not always a sustainable approach. With the influence of technology, organisations are giving back the power to pharmaceuticals and consumers that enables various parties to track and verify the legitimacy of the medication they are distributing or purchasing.

Image: Havard Health

Governments Role


One of the reasons for the growing fake drugs market in the continent is linked to the shortage and limitation of enforcement agencies. However state departments are working on ways to combat the shortage of manpower and the limitations that come with it.

One of the ways this is being achieved is through legislation and regulation process. In 2018 Tanzania became the first country in Africa to develop a well-functioning regulatory system for medical products.  International states are also supporting the cause to combat this market. The European Union is backing the Enhancing Africa’s ability to Counter Transnational Crime (ENACT) to tackle fake drugs in the continent.

Governments are using technology to empower their citizen and local business. Nigeria has been working with the digital counterfeit detecting products from companies such as mPedigree, Sproxil and Pharmasecure which has resulted in a significant drop in the purchasing of counterfeit drugs.

The Kenyan Pharmacy and Poison on Board announced a plan to roll out a system that would allow the public to verify medication they are purchasing. Local and imported medicines would have identity codes for the verification process. Further plans on this project include:

  • GPS mapping of registered pharmacies.
  • Use of technology such as spectrometers to scan drugs and identify the ingredients the medication contains.

In 2019, President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni pledged to work with UK block chain company MediConnect to fight against the counterfeit market. According to the Uganda National Drug Authority an estimated 10% of prescribed medication in the country is substandard or counterfeit. In this instance the use of block chain technology can be seen as a way forward to tracking medication. MediConnect’s concept would see manufacturers, wholesalers, prescribers and pharmacies would log the drugs journey onto the block chain. This will enables patients to track its journey and verify the legitimacy of the medication.

Scanner Innovation

Image: Pharma

Aside from various governments using technology to try manage illicit drug market, innovators are continuously working to placing the power of knowledge back to the consumer. Since the creation of mPedigree a mobile app used to verify medication, many similar mobile solutions have been created.

Cameroonian pharmacist Frank Verzele created a portable device  True-Spec that operates through an artificial intelligence called Real Active Ingredient (RAI). The device enables hospitals, pharmacies, pharmaceutical laboratories and quality control centers to verify medication that they interact with.  Another interesting app was developed by five teenagers from Nigeria. The mobile app Fake Drug Detector was developed to tackle the counterfeit market in the country, the mobile app allows for any consumer to gain access to information on the medication they are purchasing.

While mobile innovation RxAll  also uses  artificial intelligence as the main component of their scanner inventions. The device can scan the drugs in question, the information is then crossed referenced against the company’s database. The user then receives confirmation via text.

Blockchain Technology

The transparency of blockchain technology makes it a reliable tool to use for tracking of goods especially in a sector with a large counterfeit market running parallel to it. IBM Research Solution is working on a blockchain network to tackle fake medication in Africa. Currently functioning in Haifa Israel, the blockchain is designed with a mobile interface that allows users to certify and authorise party network, initiate action, complete their transaction and track progress.

SAP has developed their blockchain solution with their existing clients Merck, GSK, Ingelheim and McKesson to name a few. The blockchain solution can identify if the medication received is the original. The use of SAP blockchain creates cross company automated process, this creating an open information system that enables all players to verify the authenticity of medication, track and trace it.

A Kenyan pharmacy Uthabiti Health uses blockchain to track the medication they sell. The company’s blockchain system lets patients track and trace products using attached to its blockchain IDs. This also enables Uthabiti Health to know where their products sit on the supply chain.

The reality is that there are many people that depend on medication to survive and people are not always aware that they may be ingesting counterfeit or fake medication. Because they simply trust the organsiation or person they are purchasing the product from. The counterfeit market may not be dismissed by raids from various authorities, however innovations such as mPedigree or the use of blockchain places the power back into the most affect by this, the consumer.  The creation of such solutions has created a market of its own, thus creating more business opportunities in this market and the continent.

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